Below is my column in USA Today on the start of the World Series today and specifically a few historical disagreements involving the Chicago Cubs. In a true nightmare for a lifelong Cubs fan, I have to fly to San Diego today for a speech Wednesday to federal administrative law judges at their 25th anniversary conference. I am counting on in-flight entertainment to avoid hyperventilating at 25,000 feet. I am however moving ahead with plans to rent goats to help break the infamous curse that has plagued our team since 1945. On Sunday (assuming we do not have a sweep!), we will make these goats the happiest bovidae in the world. In the meantime, my students are allowed to claim “Cubbies” in class to decline to answer any question from me in celebration of the rise of the Cubbies. While the Ottoman Empire may have disappeared since our last World Series win, the Cubbies have lived to rise again.
Here is the column:
This week at the start of the World Series in Cleveland, fans will see something that has not been seen in 71 years: the Chicago Cubs. The last time the Cubs played in the Series was 1945, when gas was 21 cents a gallon, diapers were not invented, and deodorant was a wild new product. For me, a lifelong Cubs fan, the long drought is measured in generations. Families in my neighborhood passed down a team fealty that overcame years of denigration and jokes … and ultimately became a badge of character for every Northsider.
I grew up near Wrigley. My 89-year-old mother, Angela, still leaves the door open in the kitchen to hear the roar from Wrigley. As a kid, I would go outside of Wrigley with a transistor radio in one hand and a glove in the other to catch balls outside the field as we dodged cars on Waveland. Ernie Banks lived nearby and he even showed me once how to break in my new mitt that I got for Christmas — wetting the glove and tying a ball inside. He told me that the secret was to sleep with it. That was enough. Six months later, I was still sleeping with it until my parents pried it away.
Some things you have to learn to live with, like being called the “lovable losers.” It was bad enough to have a team that last won the Series during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, but being called a “lovable loser” made you feel like the dim-witted golden retriever of the National League. However, there are a few more pressing matters that I would like to address to set the record straight.
The White Sox. In 2005, when the White Sox played the Houston Astros in the World Series, my USA TODAY editor John Siniff suggested that I write about it as a native son columnist. I tried for days and then sheepishly explained that I could not. People do not understand that most of us were raised to root for two teams: the Chicago Cubs and anyone playing the White Sox. While there are a few commendable baseball Buddhists who follow the path of oneness and enlightenment, there remains a deep and insurmountable chasm for most of us. Honestly, we are not real fond of each other. Chicago remains a city divided by a common sport and that is how most of us prefer it.
The Oldest Team. The Atlanta Braves continue to claim this distinction, but it should rest with the Cubbies. They began as the White Stockings and played their first professional game in 1870. They then became known as the Colts, the Black Stockings, the Rainmakers and the Cowboys. They were even called at one time the Orphans due to the refusal of the owners to renew manager and first baseman Cap Anson’s contract in 1898 — leaving the team without a leader. Yet, they were the same team in the same city. The Braves trace their origins to the Cincinnati Red Stockings but did not play in 1871 and relocated to Boston, where they played as the Boston Red Stockings, the Boston Beaneaters and the Boston Braves. The team then bounced around before landing in Atlanta. This vagabond franchise claims to be the oldest.
While the Cubs were formed in 1870, the Braves insist that there was an interruption in the Cubs playing in 1872 and 1873. However, that was due to a little thing called the Chicago Fire, in which hundreds died, miles were laid waste, and 100,000 people were left destitute. The claim is that an interruption for a public tragedy means that the Cubs are not a “continuously playing” franchise — a ridiculous and callous notion. On the Northside, we toast the oldest baseball team in the country and it is not some color-shifting pretender that traveled from Cincinnati to Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta before putting down roots.
The Curse. My Boston friends often boast of breaking their own Curse of the Bambino, but let’s be clear. That was never a real curse. Babe Ruth (the “Bambino”) never cursed the Red Sox after the team sold him to the New York Yankees in 1919. While some still maintain that Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed the $125,000 to fund his Broadway musicalNo, No, Nanette, it seems likely that it was just an owner grabbing a record amount for a high-maintenance baseball player. (Frazee later explained that “Ruth had become simply impossible,” and that Ruth was “one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform.”)
The Cubs have a real curse. It was duly recorded by witnesses in 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis became irate when he was asked to remove his pet goat, Murphy, from Game 4 of the World Series. The goat smelled and fans complained. The Greek immigrant and his Irish-named goat left in a huff, and Sianis was heard to curse, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” And we didn’t. Indeed, his family has said that Sianis drove the curse home with a telegram to team owner Philip K. Wrigley that read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. … You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.” We were up by two in 1945 and vanished as a contender faster than the lingering stench of that ill-begotten goat.
Through the years, we have tried everything from a Greek Orthodox priest to opening the field up to goats. To no avail. For me, I am taking no chances. This World Series, my family is holding a party in Virginia where the honored guests will be rented goats that will be given everything that goats love in life. Call it superstition. Call it insurance. However, to paraphrase the infamous Billy Sianis, “Ain’t no goat going to stop the Cubs no more.”
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.